Saturday, 30 March 2013

Newell News-round Up, week 1

The end of the week and indeed the month and the beginning of what I hope is a regular weekly round up of some stories from across the various news platforms.

March 25th - March 31st 2013.

On the human rights front we have had the Western media blackout of the Guantanamo Bay hunger strike which has been running for 6 weeks and the more pressing issue of Theresa May and her abuse of the human rights act taking centre stage in the UK. Since the supreme cock up in 2012 where the Home Secretary got her dates mixed up, May has lead a one woman campaign to get the act torn up for toilet paper and is harnessing the religious divide created by the war of terror, sorry war on terror, to capitalise on people's fears. The latest defeat of the government in the courts is sure to lead to another onslaught on the human rights act and the European Court of Human Rights. Just remember that something that is there to benefit the many should not be unilaterally undone to satisfy the needs of the few, or be justified by way of the actions of a few. And if you truly believe it has anything to do with giving prisoners in the UK the vote, then you need to sit yourself down and take a good look around at what is going on.

The U.S. President Barack Obama has been up to his old tricks again, not content with signing away one disgraceful act during the small hours of the night whilst everyone was out partying (NDAA Act New Years Eve 2012 which effectively tore up the the American Constitution) he just signed the Monsanto security bill, which was written in part by the very billion-dollar company that stands to benefit the most from it, Monsanto. Whether or not he has expressed concerns as explicit as the ones for NDAA where he said: "The fact I support this act as a whole does not mean I agree with everything inside it. I have signed this bill despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation and prosecution of suspected terrorists." The full statement from that car wreck piece of legislation can be found here.

Off the back of these two pieces of horrendous American legislation we have had the largest attack on the Internet by what will undoubtedly be called 'cyber terrorists', this week as a row between a spam fighting group and a hosting firm spilled over. I did not even notice to be honest and neither did many others as we were supposed to experience a severe slowing of the global network but, as the Guardian highlighted, major companies experienced nothing unusual and it makes me wonder whether or not this was a publicity stunt or someone dipping their toe into the water for something at a later date.

I cannot finish without a comment on Cyprus. As of today depositors have been told that they face losing up to 60% of their savings which is nothing short of robbery. If the Cypriots went into a bank and held a cashier at gun point and asked for 60% there would be some serious prison time for anyone involved, if they did not get shot by trigger happy policia on the way out. The government can shut the banks for several days and block any transfers fearing a run on the bank and then slap police outside when they do reopen to keep order and that is O.K. There is something seriously wrong with this world if we think that this is acceptable behaviour and if anyone thinks that this would not happen anywhere else in Europe, including the UK, then again I would suggest you sit down and take a good look around at what is going on. The debt in Cyprus is nothing compared to that of Greece, Ireland, Italy Spain and even the UK so if you do not think that it was again another toe in the water, what can we get away with, exercise then think again.

The great bank robbery 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Z-Day 2013, change is the only constant

Z Day 2013 has passed and this years event in London was a little more low key than the previous two I have attended but more importantly it was opened up to people from across different backgrounds. This brought with it some fresh perspectives on how to move forward to a common goal of a fairer more equitable world for everyone in it.

The theme again this year was on the transition from where we are today to where we could be tomorrow. As it has been eloquently put "change is the only constant" yet we live in a world where a few are desperately trying to hold on to their power base and wealth, restricting the wider society of the technology that could revolutionalise the way we live in a way not seen since the beginning of the industrial revolution. One such example would be renewable energy. Resources surround us such as geothermal, solar, wind, tidal and are all available to us and as technology advancements continue, there is every reality that we could move away from the shackles of fossil fuels and the devastating practices that accompany them.

Of all these energy sources they are all driven by one constant, the Sun.

For example wind is caused by uneven heating of the atmosphere and this is driven by the solar energy from the Sun in the first instance. In the case of solar power, of the 100% of total incident solar radiation that hits the planet, 20% is absorbed by the atmosphere, 49% is absorbed by the Earth's surface and 31% returns to space. Of this energy that hits the Earth one website claims that it receives 8.2 million quads of British thermal units of energy a year, the amount of energy consumed by the human race each year is alleged to be at 400 quads of energy in all its forms, meaning that the sun exceeds the energy output for the planet 20,000 times over. Other websites claim it is over 10,000 times the energy consumption of the planet, either way one thing is obvious, we have a resource available to us to enable a sustainable, efficient and free way to power our world and with new technological advancements in tandem there should be nothing stopping us.

Then there is hydraulic fracturing or 'fracking' as it is more commonly known.

The fracking concept - image taken from National Geographic

Residents in fracking towns have complained gas comes
out of their pipes and taps.
This controversial form of energy has come on the back of an economic malaise and is used to secure oil and natural gas formations deep within the Earth's surface. The recent National Geographic magazine featured a lengthy piece on the current situation in North Dakota where the fracking industry is in boom. The local mayor of one town cited that the place was dying economically before the full scale mining operation commenced due to fracking and that he is all for it. The fact his community may now be literally dying as a consequence of their actions seems to have been lost on him.

There are various documentaries out there on this latest energy rush such as 'Fracking Hell: The Untold Story', 'Gasland' and Matt Damon's upcoming new movie 'The Promised Land'. People have experienced issue with contaminated water courses and devastating affects on farmlands. The energy companies claim that the process is safe and that the amount of chemicals used in these processes amounts to just half of one percent of the total fluids used to flush out and frack the different wells, but this all adds up as the litres of water required to conduct this process build up. The different energy giants claim that the water used in this process is either recycled and used again or disposed of in accordance with government guidelines and legislation, whatever that means. Let us hope that the guidelines are followed better than the ones Texaco/Chevron followed in Ecuador.

But I digress slightly. As mentioned earlier the discussion hinged around transition and how we get from where we are today, toward a society with a revised value system and resource based economy?

One of this years speakers was Ben Dyson of Positive Money, a young man who, with the team at Positive Money, have made the idea of the economy or the market accessible to people with some excellent short videos on how the current monetary system works and proposing a way forward for the current system we live in. They may have also directly or indirectly influenced the mainstream names such as Mervyn King and Martin Wolf who have both recently come out and said or admitted the unthinkable; that money is made out of nothing.

Perhaps somewhat unfairly some in the crowd missed the point of the invitation of people from other fields or thought processes as some of the questions to Ben during the Q&A session were solely about the removal of the monetary system. I do not believe that Positive Money have ever advocated such a move, nor do I know what their full understanding of the proposals of movements such as The Venus Project (TVP) or The Zeitgeist  Movement (TZM), but what I do know is that they are proposing a system of debt free money and an independent regulator of the banking system that is only answerable to Parliament and not run by the political ideals of those in power at the time. This would go some way to ensure that the special interest groups had no say in where a countries money was spent and also ensure that funds went in to developing things the state needed, such as schools, hospitals and funding the research and development departments of the science world.

If the overarching principle of what we all want is a better, fairer, more equitable society than the one we live in now, then surely we have to understand that to get there will require lots of little steps? The idea that we would get there any other way is absurd and unrealistic. The Venus Project and The Zeitgeist Movement are extremely unpopular or unknown amongst the majority of the worlds population and to get to the promised land we will have to help people walk down the path. Some of what Positive Money are proposing goes some way to helping influence these moves and I for one support that.

Next up was an extremely interesting session on technology with David Wood. He talked Moore's law, technological convergence and positive singularity. In short the next 10-15 years will see technology advance in a way cannot yet imagine but we also face the perilous task of surviving the next 15-30 years as resources are strained with our current economic policies of cyclical consumption and general bad practice in the pursuit of profit and perpetual growth. 
David Wood's session was perhaps the one I enjoyed most, if for nothing else to hear someone else lay it down for people on the technology on the horizon. Nano science, advancement in graphene and many other things that will quite simply change our world beyond recognition in the not so distant future.

The next couple of sessions were very different to previous years. Sean Baine, Chair of the Equality Trust gave a short but concise overview of the research and findings of the group and the book The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett. The findings are, as a general rule, that the more equal income is amongst the population of a nation, the better they score against almost all performance indicators that truly matter, i.e. lower levels of obesity, lower levels of mental illness and so on. In almost all cases the greater the inequality of income the worse the score was for those nations. Not unsurprisingly the great so called civilised Western Nations fared worse than any other.

Next up was a session on communication, specifically non-violent communication taken by Darren De Witt. I was hoping for or expecting a session more on the reprogramming of our language, something along the lines of explaining the fact we are the masters of our language and not a slave to it as we currently are, but De Witt's seminar was more about being nice to people, which worked on some levels too. He did explain how we are hard wired to be empathic and reminded me of the RSA short video called The Empathic Civilisation which is obvious, but in a not so obvious way until you have watched the video.

The last two speakers I saw were John Webster, who's talk was on 'The Strawman- the Nature of the Cage', covering some aspects of the work from Get Out of Debt Free and Mark Boyle who talked about his latest book 'The Moneyless Manifesto'. Both these talks could have been worthy of a separate day each to discuss the details of their topics.

John Webster tried to cram in forty minutes a subject that has taken some people years to get their heads around and to be fair he did not do a bad job but I am not going to get into that in this article and will perhaps save that for another day. His passion for this subject is as a result of the increase in the suicide rate for men which seem linked to issues of debt.

In essence he tried to explain that there two of us, a fictional paper document and the human us. They are very different and are bound by different rules. If you are interested in finding out more then check the link on the Strawman - Nature of the Cage and see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

Mark Boyle's talk was of a more simple concept, Mark Boyle has simply lived without money for three years.

Mark Boyle - The moneyless man

His story was one of intrigue and of a very simple outlook on life. He quite eloquently put it that there are two ways to be wealthy; one way is to rape the planet of its resources and to step on the people around you in the endless pursuit of wealth through monetary gains, the other is so reduce your desires or to find out what it really is that you need and desire. During the Q&A sessions one person asked him what he spent the proceeds from his first book on, 'The Moneyless Man', to which he responded with a quite brilliant rhetorical question back: "What do you spend your proceeds on?" He was referring to the every day wages we get for trading our labour and where( as he put it) we put our proceeds. We are essentially all consumers and in this moment Boyle explained the need for people to at least think in terms of ethical consumption. Not buying Coca-Cola as an example or wherever we can reduce our dependance on the mainstream market forces. One thing Boyle did highlight was the need for the corporations to have supply chains that are long and complicated. The further the consumer is away from the producer, the greater the emotional detachment.

This was a theme of Z Day 2012 where a section on transitional towns and community farming projects were discussed as a way forward for people to wean themselves off of faceless corporations and reducing our reliance on faceless corporations. This is not a new proposal and is one that has been advocated in the past by people such as Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X. We live in a large eco-web and every action we take has a consequence to someone else further along the chain. What Boyle and the people who have gone before him are advocating is really the major tool we have in the fighting for a better world, economic withdrawal.

To answer the initial question Mark Boyle used the money from his first book to make the 'Moneyless Manifesto' and it is also available from his website, for free of course.

At this point time constraints meant we had to leave which meant we missed the final Q&A session at the end with the panel but two of the three key speakers from the day had already left by this point and was most disappointing for those who stayed until the bitter end.

All in all it was another successful day even if it was a little more low key than previous years in London. For people seasoned in the ideas and visions proposed by TZM and TVP it was light on new information and as always the question on most people's minds was "where do we go from here?"
I would suggest supporting the work of Positive Money being a good step forward, even if it does not go as far as some would hope, another positive move forward would be for more focused days (or another day in between Z Days) that focused on a specific hot topic from that year. This could help galvanise existing members and encourage new people to continue their own research. This year for example the organisers could consider another day based solely on the discussions from Mark Boyle and/or John Webster. Speakers have been generally been about providing information, such as David Wood this year; there is not a lot the average person in the street can do about Moore's law, technological unemployment or converging technologies other than being spectators and commentators but they can be active players and participators in something such as the Freeconomy work from people like Boyle or in getting skilled up to challenge the system from such trivial things as parking tickets.

There is no fate except what we make for ourselves and there is no time to wait for someone else to do it for us. Change is the only constant and to have any influence on it we all have to get involved.

Some videos below for interest.

Geothermal energy, how it works
Iceland geothermal
Moneyless Man TED Talks

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The sky is the limit

Reading is one of life's most simple pleasures but recently a book that verged on greatness let itself down at the final hurdle with a quote straight out of a government propaganda pamphlet. The writer claimed that an example of when good deeds go bad was the agricultural revolution, which the writer stated: "Enabled the population to grow beyond sustainable means, bringing with it famine." 

It cannot be both can it? 

Chart taken from Nature
If the agricultural revolution has enabled the planet to grow more food than at any time in our history, how has this lead to famine? What the writer may have meant is that the industrial revolution and use of fossil fuels signalled an increase in the worlds population, this much is true, but again the fact we have famine is not about the size of the population but about peoples access to resources. 

We are a species that has come to know the price of everything but the value of nothing, in particular the value of a human life. 

None of the people that are suffering hunger are doing so because there is not enough food or clean water; they are suffering because they do not have means to access resources. The fact some commentators claim it is because the world is overpopulated or worse, blame it on the people for having "too many children" is a 

scandalous and dangerous concept. 

We throw away half the food we buy, half the food we grow feeds livestock and yet half the global population is malnourished. 

NNI contacted the Farmers Union, World Bank, IMF, Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs and had the following responses;

Christopher Matthews from Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations said:
"World cereal production in 2012/13 is forecast at 2 302 million tones of which feed use is estimated at 799. 2 million tonnes.
In 2009 (last figures available) UK cereals production was 21.6 million tonnes  and feed use was 10.2 million tonnes."

The Farmers Union said: "The estimates from this suggests that around 6.3 million tonnes of domestic wheat was used as animal feed in 2011/12 and this is forecast to fall in 2012/13 to 5.9m tonnes. The total domestic production in 2011/12 was 15.3 million tonnes and for 2012/13 its 13.3 million tonnes." Adding : "Compound feed production and  usage from Defra points to an increase in compound feed production in the UK in the second half of 2012 as a shortage of quality forage forced farmers to use more bought-in feed for ruminants." 

Article after article on the Internet will support the fact that we waste billions of pounds worth of food every year by throwing it away, often without having even being opened, yet according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2010-2012 868 million people are under nourished, or 1 in 8 people. This is down apparently from 1990-1992 where the figure was 1000 million (or 1 billion). 

The FAO website states the following on the collation of these statistics: 

FAO measures hunger as the number of people who do not consume the minimum daily energy requirement, which is the amount of calories needed for light activity and a minimum acceptable weight for attained height. This varies by sex and age, not surprisingly. To calculate these numbers, FAO collects three sets of data:

1.              Data on production, imports and exports of all food commodities, along with the calorie content of each food. These data are used to calculate total availability of calories in the country.
2.              Data on population structure in terms of age and sex, since different age and sex groups have different minimum caloric requirements. Using these data, one can estimate the total caloric requirements for the entire population as an aggregate. This varies from country to country because of different population structures.
3.              Household survey data. These are used to estimate the country-specific distribution of calories. Some countries may have more equal distributions of calories than other countries, which, other things being equal, would lead to fewer people being undernourished. A log normal distribution of caloric intake is assumed.
From the total calories available, total calories needed for a given population, and the distribution of calories, one can calculate the number of people who are below the minimum energy requirement, and this is the number of undernourished people. This number is then summed for all countries in the world. Thus, no account is taken of protein, vitamin or mineral intake.

The FAO also inform us that, when records began in 1969-1971, 878 million people were recorded as hungry and reported a steady increase in 1995-1997 and 2009, with a large spike occurring in 2009 during the financial and economic crises. This final statistic is quite telling in that the reasons for this are not necessarily linked to agricultural output but by the purchasing power of people.

A spokesperson for Defra supplied documents and figures which can be accessed via a link at the end of this article.

Depending on how people read statistics dictates the explanations that are given and the story spun in the mainstream media always seems to suggest we are over populated. 

One trail of thought might be that despite nearly fifty years of technological advancement and increase in agricultural output, we still have roughly the same amount of people undernourished or going hungry. Another interpretation will be that although the figure remains virtually the same, proportionately the percentage of people today going hungry is less than that in 1969-1971. However we look at it the fact remains that it is unacceptable in this modern age that we have people without access to food and clean water if the only restriction is financial. 

The means for helping these people should not be restricted through monetary means; the resources required to help people are available in abundance, but our instance on slapping a financial ball and chain around their ankles means that they lack access to the help and assistance that they require. 

Vertical farm in Singapore
There are a wide ranging variety of innovative ideas to deal with land issues and extreme weather systems we have witnessed in the past two years. One such example is of course vertical farming. It is thought that a building 12 stories high would be able to accommodate enough space to replace a 400 acre plot of farm land. Dr Dickson Despommier from the Vertical Farming project said: "The concept of vertical farming has grown from a classroom activity to reality in just 10 years
My hope is that the technology will become cheap to replicate, easy to install, and relatively trouble-free. If it does, then anyone will be able to work in them. 
Cities around the world will undoubtedly be trying out some form of vertical farming over the next five to ten years, so I am confident that the technology will develop and mature until it can eventually benefit everyone who wants/needs them. To date, there are enough vertical farms up and running (Japan, Korea, Singapore, Sweden, USA, Canada) to give credence to my hopes and desires in seeing this food production system applied on a large scale."

It would not be complete if I did not mention the horse meat scandal. Of course I am surprised that people are surprised at the depths to which some companies will go to in the name of making a profit. In a world where the margins are becoming ever more narrow it should be of no surprise that bad practice like this would follow. Examples of this kind of bad practice can be found across all industries such as Deepwater Horizon BP incident, Texaco/Chevron vs Ecuador dispute and many others.

There is only one thing we need to remember; when profit rules, honest, health and safety suffer.

Iraq, ten years on

Shock and awe - 10 years on

It is ten years since the U.S. led invasion force launched the shock and awe campaign against Iraq in the fight against terror and search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) and are things really any better today than they were then?

Just this week another car bomb has gone off killing ten people in Basra, the former temporary home of the British troops and a recent article in the Guardian told of the now infamous sledgehammer man who tried to tear down Saddam's statue, a story of regret. He claimed that once the people of Iraq had but one dictator to deal with but that now they have hundreds. Presumably he was talking of private defence contractors such as XE, formerly Blackwater and other construction companies (Halliburton)  and the rest of the military industrial complex, that have made millions of dollars off of the back of the suffering of the Iraqi people in the name of 'New Democracy', freedom and western safety.

The British mainstream press have also been focussing on the issue of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the debilitating affect it has had on those troops that have been fortunate enough to make it home from their numerous tours of an illegal war. Mental illness is a very serious issue and one that seems to have not been dealt with overly well by the military. The BBC news bulletins have regularly featured the issue in the build up to the tenth anniversary and a startling admission from a Navy Psychiatrist that once a soldier exhibits signs of mental disorder they are discharged and tend to slip out of the system. A disgrace for the Ministry of Defence to bare in my opinion.

The issue of PTSD does raise a simple question regarding human nature; if it is human nature to wage war and be aggressive as some commentators like to claim then why is it we have so many war veterans suffering with the affects of war on their minds?

The latest push regarding PTSD comes against the background of the increasing use of drones in war, enacted by the Bush administration and then ratified and used exponentially under the Nobel Peace winning administration of Barack Obama. If Malcolm X was unimpressed with Martin Luther King, Jr winning the same award because there was still war, I wonder what he would have made about giving it to a man who thinks that indiscriminately bombing another country from the comfort of your arm chair and an X-box controller is OK?

The coalition bring down the statue

The BBC have also been stating the number of people that have died in the conflict so far.

Between 2003 and 2009, when the war is meant to have ended, 179 British service personnel have died. Depending where you look the civilian death toll varies. The Iraq Body Count website has the figure at somewhere between 111,762 and 122,224 civilian deaths with a further 12,000 to be added subject to a Wikileaks document. On a BBC news broadcast earlier today they mentioned it could be as high as 650,000 but called this an 'upper estimate'. The true number is unknown to us and in the past the figures have wrestled with the term 'enemy combatants' as they have been unable to be sure whether some of the people they have massacred were indeed the supposed enemy or not. Are they not still humans?

This strange world view of polarising people is one that has been difficult to shake myself in the past. The saying is that "one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." It seems if you throw up a tent on the streets of London to protest against a corrupt system you get labelled a terrorist. Throw up a military base in downtown Baghdad and kill a few hundred thousand people and they call you a liberation force. I wonder what people in the West would do if an aggressor launched a devastating bombing campaign, destroying schools and levelling our infrastructure, before sending in an invading force, setting up check points and pulling our families out of our own homes at gun point?

Thanks to Hollywood I do not have to wonder, they have done it for me.

The latest action movie churned out of the special effects factory line was Red Dawn, a remake of a 1980's Patrick Swayze movie. One thing that stood out about the film, aside from the fact they swapped the Chinese as military force for a North Korean army backed by Russia, was a quote from the main character: "I am gonna fight. It's easier for me, because I've done it before. The rest of you are gonna have a tougher choice. I'm not gonna sell it, it's too ugly for that. These soldiers don't want to be here. For them this is some place, for us it's our home. When you fight in your backyard it makes just a little more sense, and hurts a little less."

They could have been talking about the insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The only people who have benefited from these wars are the defence contractors and engineering companies who have had to rebuild the infrastructure we destroyed searching for something that was not there. What price will they be willing to pay to justify their next war?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Time to take individual ownership of collective issues

It is well known that the rise of fascism is allowed when the left start to show unrest. This then permeates through into mainstream politics so that they can put the left back in to its box.

We are witnessing this very thing happen here in the UK, with groups such as the EDL springing up and the more recent example of the Ukip result in Eastleigh where they leapfrogged the Tory party into second place behind the Lib Dems in the recent by election there. Across
Europe too we see this occurring with Greece's Golden Dawn party, Le Pen's Front National and Italy's Northern League all taking prominent steps of influence in the political sphere.

The fragmentation of the left does not help the situation. The scenes across social networking sites last year regarding Julian Assange and the allegations of sexual assault proving a timely boost for the right. Add to this the damage done by a decade of spin, lies, war and the political positioning of the flag ship party in this country, Labour, of being centre left trying to win influence over the centre right, which Mo Ansar has recently described as being "ever further right" and it leaves us all with very real problems and should deeply concern us all.

The bush fires we are now seeing around the world, with recession and war, are no different to that of the situation pre-1914.

The perpetual fuelling of hatred and mistrust amongst the people by the media is allowing these policy makers to attack the very core values of freedom and democracy (or the illusion of it at least) that we believe in and leaves us all living in very dangerous times, which will affect this and future generations for decades to come.

If we are to face these issues as a society then we need to start taking individual ownership of the problem and work as a collective. We need to challenge the rhetoric of the establishment and media and not wait for the work to be done by a select minority of well intended people.